Gagging The Media In A Democracy

Gagging The Media In A Democracy
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Of recent, there have been what is apparently a guided and concerted attempts by the President Mohammadu Buhari headed All Progressive Congress, APC, Federal Government’s drive to stamp its control on what is churned out as information within the Nigerian media space as it has become obvious that the administration is not at home with the kind of access Nigerians, both within the already regulated and the unregulated media platforms such as the electronic and print media, and micro-blogging sites – a favourite of the mostly youth population of the country, seems to have.

The manner of news reportage in public space is apparently not in tandem with the policy drive of the government of the day, hence the need to reign in such perceived excesses, which have been allowed under the right to the freedom of expression, being a fundamentally guaranteed constitutional right of the citizens of all true Democratic states the world over.

AljazirahNigeria recalls that a few weeks ago, the media was inundated with the news of the decision by the FG to suspend indefinitely, the functioning of microblogging site, Twitter within the Nigerian space following the deletion of President Buhari’s tweet which was considered quite inflammatory, and goes against the standard of Twitter. The government, through its information minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who announced the ban, attributed the move to the proclivity of Twitter to promote a state of insecurity in the country, while citing Twitter’s role in fostering the recent #EndSARS national protest in the country.

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In the course of the week, the Information and Culture Minister had asked the Federal House of Representatives during a public hearing, to assign more constitutional powers to the FG to enable it bring some form of regulation on the use of microblogging sites or social media platforms in the country.

Earlier, the FG had also directed the National Broadcasting Commission, NBC, to immediately commence the process of licensing all Over-The-Top, OTT, media services and social media operations in Nigeria. It said platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and others must now be registered in Nigeria. As if that was not enough, The FG has also asked the members of the House to review its regulatory role on the Nigeria Press Council Act of 2018.

Already, stakeholders have expressed deep fears that a bill seeking to amend the Nigeria Press Council, NPC, Act will lead to the death of serious newspapers in Nigeria if it scaled through the two chambers of the National Assembly and finally assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.

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Strong voices against the bill said on Thursday June 17 at the public hearing in the House of Representatives that some provisions in the proposed amendment to the NPC Act would make it difficult for the media houses to operate in an atmosphere of freedom and hold those in the position of authority to account.

The Nigerian Press Organisation, NPO, an umbrella body comprising the Newspapers Proprietors Association of Nigeria, NPAN, the Nigerian Guild of Editors, NGE, and the Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ, has therefore called on the House of Representatives to step down the bill immediately.

This is even as media rights groups and other critical stakeholders in the media industry kicked against any move to infringe on press freedom through the proposed amendment of the NPC and NBC Acts respectively.

The Executive Secretary of IPC, Lanre Arogundade, said the focus should be more on a “truly independent and media freedom friendly Nigerian Press Council” instead of working hard to muzzle media freedom. He expressed concern over a clause in the new bill, which sought to empower the NPC to penalise defaulting newspaper organisations with a fine of N10 million and N250,000 against individual journalists.

The professional organisations stated that their observations and recommendations were based on their respective mandates and well informed norms and standards based on regional and international instruments and frameworks that are applicable to Nigeria.

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We urge that with the 30th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration, Nigeria is expected to embark on legislative paths that help to expand the frontiers of press freedom through frameworks that strengthen the freedom and independence of the media to enhance its roles.

It is the heartfelt concern of AljazirahNigeria that these moves by the government appears to form an ominous sequence as there have been hues of alarm raised in public space in the recent past, concerning the fact that the space for healthy  political rivalry and or opposition is gradually but steadfastly being narrowed under the Buhari regime. Some public space watchers have expressed fears that it may see the country declining down the path of a full dictatorship such as China, North Korea, Russia just to mention a few.


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